You met with then Secretary of State Clinton in 2012, when you spoke about balancing your interests in the region with reaching out to the international community.
We will continue to pursue and maintain friendly relationships with countries around the world. Since we took office in March 2011, I have been engaging extensively with the international community, especially my counter-parts around the world. From the beginning we started engaging with the US State Department. In May 2011 Senators John McCain and Mitch McConnell made a visit to Myanmar and then in November Secretary of State Hilary Clinton came and that opened up a new era of bilateral relations between our countries and subsequently led to the re-appointment of Ambassadors to our respective country missions. The relationship had of course been very cool in the previous two decades, and that had created some misunderstandings between our governments and people. My belief is that we must engage and talk together in order to have a greater understanding of what is taking place in our countries.
It was my responsibility to deliver the message of the reform process and our determination to continue with this process to all of the countries, in order to achieve better understanding of Myanmar in the international community.
In your UN Speech in September of this past year, you said that the “hard won peace would not be sustainable until the economic and social needs of the citizens are met.” These are broad goals, which are not met in the US, for example. When you were in NY, did you feel like the people there understood the reform process?
I am optimistic that they understood my message, but I think that they did want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
Let’s discuss the demands of ASEAN. Now investors are looking at possibly coming in to Myanmar and using it as a hub, with trade barriers coming down. Yet there are challenges as well. Please tell us how the year is starting out in terms of the ASEAN negotiations.
One of the basic principles of ASEAN is that ASEAN itself is central to all regional issues. As Chair we must fulfill the commitments established in previous summits, which include many ambitious objectives. One example is that we have to establish the ASEAN community by the end of 2015. In order to accomplish this we have a blueprint with three pillars: political and security; economic; and social and cultural. All of these pillars have their respective blueprints as well. We must work towards that. There are many obligations for each member state. As you know the states involved are at different levels of development, a gap that we are trying to narrow. We also have to improve connectivity among our people, not just between governments but also through social and educational exchange. Each country has a scorecard and we have accomplished approximately 80% of the list, but the remaining 20% comprises issues that are difficult to handle.
It seems like the SEA Games set a very positive tone for this collaboration.
We want to send a message to the world that Myanmar is a responsible and active member of ASEAN, as well as the broader world community, and that our country is able to be an active leader of ASEAN in 2014.
Myanmar has a series of unique attributes in the region, both as a business and a tourism destination. What is Myanmar going to capitalize on as its strengths in the competition among the ASEAN countries?
The strength of Myanmar lies in its culture and history – in its people. Our civilization started thousands of years ago and we have preserved our traditions. The beauty of our people lies in their politeness, humility and contentedness. Of course there are also incredible natural attractions for the tourists. For the investors, we have abundant natural resources and an enviable geographic position.
Of course in the past we were not able to attract the investment because of international sanctions so as soon as we took office we started traveling to spread the message of the reform process and try to get these sanctions removed. The Europeans did lift their sanctions and the US has also made adjustments in its policies. Still the US has more laws to relax. Myanmar also has the active and new foreign investment law that is investor friendly and creates an atmosphere conducive to investment. We must invite foreign companies because we have lagged behind in technical know-how and human resources development. Investment can create job opportunities and develop our young, talented, but untrained work force.
As you reach out to the investment community and say “Join the Gold Rush” as you did in New York last September, are you concerned about the danger that any gold rush brings, which is a rush of speculators who want to make money fast and leave? How are you tailoring your message to attract the “right” investors?
That is one reason why we are trying to join the EITI. We want to attract investors that observe their international obligations while investing in Myanmar.
You have been a diplomat all over the world. What are your concrete goals for the remainder of your term?
On the part of the Foreign Ministry we would like to accomplish our foreign policy, which is to proceed with proactive relations. We are planning to open more Embassies abroad as we reach out to other countries. Myanmar is also an active, responsible member in international organizations like the U.N. For the government as a whole, in its remaining time in office, we would like to see the reform process implemented, and be able to appreciate tangible, sustainable results. Comprehensively we are gaining momentum and we are seeing results, but we need to show the world and our people that we have tangible, concrete results that are sustainable for the future.